With Mental Health Awareness Week in full swing, there has been an influx of stories surrounding stress, anxiety and sleep. When it comes to the latter, the focus is often on the struggle to fall asleep and the knock-on-effect of not getting enough. We rarely talk about our quality of sleep, let alone whether we dreamt or not. Can you even remember the last time you had a really truly vivid dream? If you struggle to get eight hours sleep a night, the thought of dreaming can feel like more of an indulgent luxury. But, more and more research is highlighting the importance of dreams.
Why is dreaming important?
According to Rubin Naiman, sleep and dream specialist at the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, dreams are essential to a healthy mind and he has linked the lack of dreaming to several diseases. Following the release of his review, ‘Dreamless: the silent epidemic of REM sleep loss’ last September, Naiman told Science Daily, “We are at least as dream-deprived as we are sleep-deprived and many of our health concerns attributed to sleep loss actually result from rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep deprivation.”
Dreaming happens when we’re in the REM section of sleep. It is the final phase of sleep and where our brain is at its most active. The first four stages are a progression for shallow to deeper sleep.
Over the years, research has indicated that REM is important for brain development. A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience showed that those who spent more time in the REM phase were better equipped to deal with fear and less likely to develop post-traumatic stress following a dramatic experience. Professor Matthew Walker from the University of California told Time last year, “I think of dreaming like overnight therapy.”
What happens when you dream?
While research has identified the pros surrounding dreaming, scientists are still unsure as to what exactly happens when we dream. Some believe it’s random neurons shooting off, others believe it’s our brains way of processing the days events and any concerns or dilemmas we’ve had to face.
Can you increase your dream potential?
It might sound absolutely bonkers, but some experts recommend you wake yourself up after five hours, take a 15-minute break and then try to drift back off. A team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have created a gadget that monitors your sleep patterns and can detect when you’re sleeping out of the dream state. The gadget makes a noise or jolts you back to keep you dreaming for longer.
Until the gadget becomes widely available, perhaps the most straightforward approach is to try and get more sleep to up the chances of entering the REM phase for longer.
What about remembering your dreams?
We’ve all had that morning-after struggle when we can’t remember what we dreamt about. Last month, a study by the University of Adelaide found that those who take vitamin B6 had more chance of recalling their dreams. The vitamin doesn’t affect the vividness of the dream or the pattern of your sleep, but it will help you to remember your dream. While vitamin B6 alone won’t improve your dreams, at least you won’t go crazy trying to remember them.
The supplement: Forget your worries and release any tension with the help of Magnolia Rhodiola Complex, £26. The blend of ingredients are second-to-none when it comes to easing anxiety.
The pillow mist: Spritz away your worries and lull yourself into a dreamy sleep with This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Mist, £18.
The balm: Just a pea-size amount of de Mamiel’s Anchor Balm, £40, warmed up in your hands and applied to your pulse points is the perfect remedy for those who get restless in the early hours.